Physical therapists can combine traditional concussion rehab methods with newer technology like (Virtual Reality) VR Concussion Rehab development to help patients recover from concussions through newly designed programs.
Concussions are a serious problem in sports and physical therapy. The most common form of brain injury, it’s estimated that over 8 million Americans will suffer from some form of concussion in their lifetimes. Concussion can lead to chronic headaches, chronic fatigue and/or depression, which makes it difficult for victims to return to their normal activities after recovering from their symptoms.
The world of sports is becoming increasingly aware of the long-term consequences of repeated head injuries.
Concussions are a common occurrence in sports, and they have significant long-term consequences. Although concussions are not just an issue for athletes, nearly 1 in 4 people reported having a concussion at some point in their life. Source: Truven Health Analytics-NPR Health Poll of 3,009 adults interviewed from March 1-15, 2016
Standard Concussion Rehabilitation
Concussion rehabilitation has relied on standard physical therapy exercises, such as standing on a foam wedge or wearing ankle weights while walking.
Traditional physical therapy exercises are difficult to make consistent, especially for concussion rehabilitation. They are not specific to the needs of each individual and they do not provide an automatic and accurate measurement of progress. These exercises do not provide reproducible results in terms of making changes in your strength or balance which can result in further injury if you have a relapse with another concussion event later on down the road.
Virtual reality has been studied for therapeutic use for over 20 years. XR hardware and software capabilities have rapidly improved in the past 5 years, as developers use game-engine technology to treat people who may otherwise be unable to participate due to their injuries (e.g., balance problems) or other barriers (e.g., anxiety), These patients can access virtual environments that are designed with their specific goals in mind.
These recent technology advances have enabled the creation of VR environments that allow clinical researchers to test patients in real time and gather objective data that was not previously available. VR environments have the advantage of being exactly reproducible for every patient. This feature is useful in both clinical research and in actual practice to eliminate variables and prove research faster.
Safety is also a key feature, in that VR simulations can put users in situations that may be very dangerous to attempt in real life.
Engaging Patience with VR Concussion Rehab
A study published in 2016 found that virtual reality offers physical therapists a new way to engage with their patients.
The researchers used an immersive VR experience to assess the balance and postural control of patients with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI). They found that those who received this treatment showed improvements in both balance and postural control compared to those who did not receive it. This suggests that virtual reality can be used as an effective intervention tool for MTBI rehabilitation by providing an alternative means of improving balance and postural control skills which may be difficult or impossible on real life grounds due to limited mobility or other causes such as fatigue during daily activities like driving home from work.
- Researchers at Mayo Clinic are using virtual reality simulations of common sports injuries such as knee sprains or ankle sprains so that they can better understand how these injuries affect the body mechanics involved during movement (e.g., running). The goal is not only learning more about these types of injuries but also developing new ways forward when treating individuals who suffer from them—including those recovering from brain injury such as concussions.
- Another study conducted at Duke University Medical Center found that participants who underwent immersive video game therapy reported higher levels of physical activity following treatment. This was compared with nonparticipants who did not receive any form intervention after completing their coursework. The study was conducted outside class time, playing online games together over Skype sessions hosted by one another’s teachers.
Case Study: Big Look 360
BigLook 360 is a partner company with Another Reality Studio for virtual reality platforms in the concussion research space. They create immersive 360 Real World Experiences for VR device platforms for therapies, data collection, user record updates, performance data, and content updates.
Case Study: Kinesim
Kinesim is a VR physical therapy app that was developed for the Oculus Quest 2 mobile VR headset. After consulting with Dr. Jenna Silver, Doctor of Physical Therapy, it became clear how strong the use case was for VR to be used as a tool for concussion rehab.
“I see virtual reality being a great opportunity for my concussion patients are my patients suffering from a concussion. It’s a great way to have them work on advanced balance skills and return to sport without difficulty.”Dr. Jenna Silver, Doctor of Physical Therapy
How is VR physical therapy different from traditional PT?
“VR allows me to create the same parameters every single time with less variability, when while I might provide more variability, which I don’t want, for example, if the goal is to get someone to catch a ball going a certain speed each time I may not be able to throw the ball at that speed each time. But in VR, I can create that same speed every single time. I can also vary how much I throw a ball outside of their base of support the exact amount every time, something that would be impossible to reproduce as a human.”Dr. Jenna Silver, Doctor of Physical Therapy
A Tool for Concussion Research
Virtual reality’s ability to gather objective information about how a patient performs in a controlled environment makes it a very powerful tool for concussion research. Virtual reality is a very powerful tool for concussion research. It can be used to test balance, vestibular function and visual acuity in patients with concussion. It can also be used to test cognitive functions such as memory retention, attention span and reaction time; motor skills like walking speed or agility on different surfaces; as well as eye convergence and eye movement by using eye tracking technology. The Meta Quest Pro VR headset includes eye tracking as a standard feature, making it an ideal choice for applications that need to know where the user is looking.
Virtual reality is being used by physical therapists for VR concussion rehab. We have learned that VR applications are providing researchers with new tools to track and develop rehabilitative strategies for concussion victims. Virtual reality has the potential to change the way we treat concussions throughout their rehabilitation process by giving clinicians a more objective view of patient recovery and allowing them to gather valuable data that would otherwise be impossible with traditional clinical methodology.